Blue Valentine

Idiot Love

         
 

30 December 2010| No Comments     by Sean Chavel

 

Easier to admire than it is to like. Blue Valentine is the birth and death of love as portrayed by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as a working class couple. The splintered time framework has spirals that cross cuts in-between love and courtship, and resentment and demise of marriage. The way it is edited signifies that writer-director Derek Cianfrance is drawn to paradoxes and contrasts. The film had made a splash for being branded NC-17 for sexuality before an appeal altered it into an R rating. But there is no preoccupation with gratuitous displays of skin. Instead the partial nudity is set in context of post-coital wiping as pregnancy prevention, a gynecological visit, and guy-on-girl oral sex between protagonists Dean and Cindy. Sound effects of slurping are subdued and natural, and not gratuitous either. Kids under 17 are not primed to get anything out of the film anyway.

Admittedly, I have been dying to see Gosling deliver another extraordinary performance after “Half Nelson” (2006) pretty much burned into my every day subconscious. Williams is an actress that I honestly haven’t reflected much on, but after “Brokeback Mountain” (2005), “Wendy and Lucy” (2008) and now this, it’s about time to credit one of the cinema’s great grieving talents. Of the two performers, in this case at least, Williams’ acting reverberates through my skin most. To back pedal, there are two guy on girl oral sex scenes between the two of them. One takes place during their courtship origins, and the second takes place while she is repulsed by him and is not turned on.

Dean has arranged a getaway to a space-and-future themed hotel room, steeped somewhere between cheesiness and trippy-ness, in an effort to reignite the spark in their marriage. So of course he is offended that Cindy is unimpressed with all the efforts, the buttering, and the non-responsiveness to oral sex. But for quite awhile in the hence present, Dean will apologize and then go into a diatribe of passive aggressiveness. They also disagree in how they raise their child. Such as when Dean lets his child lick oatmeal off the table, he does it too.

At the supermarket, Cindy has a run-in with a former flame and flashbacks reveal what a big deal he was. But she is married now, although she hides the fact that she is married to Dean. The big catalyst of the film is that Cindy thinks her own husband is a loser. And in the self-loathing of Dean we can see that he is starting to think he is a loser, too. He is a professional mover. She is a nurse with a smarter and more influential circle, a pedigreed support system. Dean, now with a receding hairline, has beer-guzzlers as friends and as a stupid choice he becomes a morning alcoholic. Dean is insecure that he is not the Prince that Cindy might have wanted, and feels that he was the one she settled on. And so he riles on in his self-loathing.

This takes away from some of the giddy love that the filmmaker intertwines: The ukulele and tap-dancing at a storefront, the sudden good-humored banter with an offended taxi cab driver, the genesis of “their song,” the close-up face to face looks they share in bed. The big kicker is their civil service wedding day which can’t be described in any special way except to say that their happiness for each other is incandescent.

The fall-out isn’t entirely Dean’s fault. Cindy is not open with her feelings and when she meets her old flame again, it’s like she’s downgrading Dean in an entirely new way. The performances are terrific, with Gosling and Williams striking flawless notes. Except to say that Gosling seems to have taken cues from the Robert DeNiro of “New York New York” (1977) and “Raging Bull” (1980), but Williams on the other hand is opaque, withdrawn and non-responsive to her co-star but tangible to her audience – we can link her emotional dots. As an actress, she is cornering the market on emotionally bruised women with unparalleled skill.

Even though the performances here are often of a “wow” factor, I was much more moved by “Revolutionary Road” (2008). The difference is, in that film the Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet characters Frank and April made declarations to reinvent themselves and had the intelligence to talk and sort through feelings, but it was society and suburbia confinements that ruined them. Dean and Cindy, on the contrast, are two idiots in love who are incapable of talking through their problems. Perhaps in fairness, these two aren’t idiots but when it comes to love they are. The filmmaker’s catharsis, so to speak, is uncompromised and unusually poignant.

120 minutes. Rated R.

DARK DRAMA / PSYCHODRAMA / FALL MOVIE

Film Cousins: “New York New York” (1977); “Half Nelson” (2006); “Revolutionary Road” (2008); “500 Days of Summer” (2009).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.

 

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